If you're a fan of '90s FPS games and have been feeling a bit let down by the modern era, turn your eyes toward Ion Maiden, a new game from the publisher behind the Duke Nukem series, 3D Realms. This isn't another modern game just trying to look the part of a retro throwback - it's actually developed using the same 22-year old engine that powered Duke Nukem 3D.
So what does a 2018 game built on 1996 code look like? Pretty damn cool, actually:
The game is available now on Steam Early Access (opens in new tab), and is slated to arrive on PS4 and Xbox One later this year. If you're wondering why 3D Realms would go through the trouble of building an obvious homage / spiritual successor to Duke Nukem 3D but not include the blonde-haired macho man himself, let's get you caught up on the winding (and a little sad) legacy of Duke Nukem.
The history of Duke
The first Duke Nukem game, created by Apogee Software in 1991, was a sidescrolling shooter. Kind of like a slower-paced Mega Man. This was followed by another 2D game in 1993 that did very little to alter the original formula. In 1996, Apogee (now calling itself 3D Realms) released what, for many, is the high point of the series and possibly even the early FPS era: Duke Nukem 3D.
Duke Nukem 3D was fast, crass, and loud. It gave players a wide variety of weapons, and made each unique and fun to use. You could shrink your enemies and squish them like bugs. You could put your boot to their faces. You could place trip mines in elevators and create hologram copies of yourself to confuse foes. It was also sexist and full of toilet humor, though these factors weren't too out-of-character for the 'X-treme' era of the '90s.
It was the follow-up, Duke Nukem Forever, that has seemingly sealed Duke's fate while making way for games like Ion Maiden.
It took Duke Nukem Forever 15 years, three engine swaps, litigation troubles, and a change in publishers to finally hit shelves. The results were... meh (opens in new tab). But regardless of how well it did or didn't turn out, as of 2010, the rights to Duke belong to Gearbox Software, makers of the Borderlands series. And this is where the seed that would eventually become Ion Maiden begins to take root.
From Duke to duchess
Despite selling the rights to Duke in 2010, 3D Realms worked with development studio Interceptor Entertainment to develop a new Duke Nukem game in 2014 called Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction. Gearbox, none too pleased about this, filed a lawsuit and a cease-and-desist to 3D Realms and Interceptor.
After scrubbing the game of Duke himself and any references to the character, Interceptor was left with Bombshell - a game that attempted to capture the spirit of the early Duke Nukem games but with an isometric twist and a female protagonist named Shelly 'Bombshell' Harrison. If the game isn't ringing any bells, that's because it landed with a thud and Interceptor has since been restructured and renamed.
Ion Maiden stars the same heroine, but this time in a game and genre more befitting her (estranged) ancestry. While she may not have his signature gravel voice or bulging biceps, it's the gameplay that matters - and in that respect, Ion Maiden may be the game fans have been waiting for since 1996.
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